In the Old Testament idols were a big deal--two of the ten commandments are taken up with prohibitions against them. Not many people in Europe, or the Americas seem to be worshiping Baal at stone altars or wooden Asherah these days. However in a recent trip to China I saw a lot of people offering incense and bowing down to various Buddhas and other idol like figurines. I have seen similar stuff in Japan. Are these just the fading pockets of idol worshiop? Will this be mostly gone in 50 years? So what are the 21st century idols? Have idols morphed into something else, or are they a vice man has mostly left behind--perhaps the only one? Conventional wisdom says that our material things (e.g. Plasma TVs) are modern day idols--but this is not compelling to me. People typically don't worship these things or pray to them--they just want them for status or to immerse themselves in a football game. Have we elevated science to god status now? Looking to it for protection and for answers to the mysteries of life.
After Saul botched his assignment to wipe out the Amalekites Samuel tells him:"For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry" This equates idolatry with disobeying God -- essentially putting yourself in the position of God.
Mike Thorburn Bayside said that anything that comes between you and God is an idol. This approach would promote a lot of things to idol status--in fact almost everything sinful or evil. This strikes me as perhaps too broad--but this would fit with the emphasis given in the Ten Commandments.
Scot Douglass in his book, Theology of the Gap says: "Diastema and Kinesis are antidotes to humanity's propensity to idolatry. The very fabric of creation speaks of the absence of God and invites those within the diasteme to seek for God elsewhere".
Yes, I agree it is arguable whether this last quote is actually in English. My paraphrase of Scot's sentences above is that life is the juxtaposition of "now" -the moment that we live in, and the untouchable past and future. If we recognize the mystery of that, then we are far less likely to seek god in a wooden statue wrapped in gold foil.